Oculus VR and Surveillance: Where Has Privacy Gone?

The sun was shining bright this weekend, so I, of course, chose to binge one of my favorite shows from the mid-2000s: “The Wire.” While so many of the issues the show comments on, including racial injustice, political corruption and intercity education, remain real issues to this day, most of the tech used is seriously dated.

It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come since the final season of “The Wire” aired in 2008. A large part of the show is centered around surveillance, where the major crimes unit attempts to tap pay phones and burners of known drug dealers with the massive, grey box-like computers many us of remember being amazed at. In fact, season 1 featured officers typing reports on typewriters (imagine not even having the need for IT security software).

Can you imagine what McNulty and co. could have done with a smartphone or webcam?

Rewatching this classic HBO drama got me thinking about our current state of surveillance. We seem to have accepted the fact that our webcams might be watching us, our digital assistants might be listening to us and some devices could be doing both.

The thought of being watched and listened to certainly frightens me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. However, as tech continues to evolve, the right to our own personal privacy seems to be in jeopardy.

With new types of surveillance being developed … questions about our freedom to privacy should be raised.

The name Palmer Luckey comes to mind when considering these issues, as he has now shifted his focus from VR to surveillance tech. Regardless of how you feel about Luckey, who co-founded and sold Oculus VR to Facebook for a mere 2 billion dollars, and his political views, it’s hard to argue his intelligence and success when it comes to developing new technology.

Luckey, who is said to have contributed $100,000 to Trump’s inauguration, apparently has a new startup in the works—a company devoted to developing surveillance technology that could be deployed on borders between countries and around military bases. This is according to three people familiar with the plan who asked for anonymity because it’s still confidential. They also allegedly said the investment fund run by Peter Thiel, a technology adviser to Trump, is on board to support the effort, according to The Seattle Times.

Luckey confirmed that he was working on a defense-related startup in an emailed statement.

“We are spending more than ever on defense technology, yet the pace of innovation has been slowing for decades,” he wrote according to The Seattle Times. “We need a new kind of defense company, one that will save taxpayer dollars while creating superior technology to keep our troops and citizens safer.”

READ: Potential Security Threats With VR Technology

With new types of surveillance being developed, likely with artificial intelligence and predictive functionality, questions about our freedom to privacy should be raised.

Are we protected from unlawful surveillance? Is technology moving in a direction that eliminates privacy as we know it? Is our immediate safety worth compromising values we hold dear?

Characters in “The Wire” certainly could have benefited from improved surveillance tech. But, when it potentially violates our privacy in the real world, lines become incredibly blurry.

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